Tighter airline security could increase business jet use

Tighter security following last week's botched attempt to blow up a jetliner may spur some business travelers to switch from the major airlines to smaller business jets, an aviation analyst said Monday.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but before the current economic downturn, some business travelers opted out of scheduled airline service and began to use business aircraft, said airline consultant Robert Mann.

"It is a preferred mode of transportation for people who have a high value of time and a high value of convenience," Mann said.

But not everyone thinks the increases in security will lead to sales of business aircraft.

National Business Aviation Association president and CEO Ed Bolen said the new security procedures put into place after Sept. 11 were a significant change for passengers.

But "we did not see any empirical data to show a significant shift (to business aviation) after 9/11," Bolen said.

New security restrictions were quickly implemented after a man flying from Nigeria to Amsterdam and then to the U.S. on Friday tried to ignite an explosive device as the plane prepared to land in Detroit.

On Sunday, police met another Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight after the crew reported a "verbally disruptive passenger." A law enforcement officer said the man did not pose a security risk, however.

The additional inconvenience of airline travel will, in general, be good for companies that sell charter services, flight cards and fractional ownership services, Mann said.

If airline travel isn't reliable or productive, and there are excess delays or other problems, passengers won't use it, he said.

Arriving at an airport two hours before a flight to take a one-hour trip, then doing it again on the way home will waste a large amount of a traveler's time.

"I think if we see much more of the sort of response that we saw in this Detroit incidence, we're going to see a resurgence in business aviation," he said.

Airlines worry about business travelers because they are key customers who tend to fly more often and pay higher fares. Once they lose business travelers to private aviation, they aren't likely to get them back, Mann said.

Cessna Aircraft spokesman Doug Oliver said he didn't think the changes would help sales, although those who use business aircraft may use them more.

"Even with increased wait times at airports, I wouldn't see that translating into increased sales for us," Oliver said.

Companies that use general aviation do it to enhance productivity or gain schedule flexibility. Wait times at the airports are only one factor.

"Certainly people might use their business aircraft more, but sales are based on economics (and) on the global economy," Oliver said.

Cessna isn't expecting an uptick in activity until sometime in 2011, he said.

The use of business aircraft is a matter of economics, Bolen said. Companies that use them do so after a lot of analysis.

Time and predictability of scheduled flights — such as how many flights are canceled — are two issues that are scrutinized, he said.

But "I don't know how much time any new security rules are going to add to the current business trip," Bolen said.

There are a lot of reasons to use business aviation, such as getting to places not served by airlines, visiting several sites in a day, or transporting equipment or products difficult to take on a jetliner, Bolen said.

After Sept. 11, airlines lost some passengers who previously took shorter, regional flights but decided to drive rather than fly.

General aviation is a secure form of transportation, however, said General Aviation Manufacturers Association spokeswoman Katie Pribyl.

"It avoids the security hassles of traveling on the airlines," Pribyl said. "But whether it will lead to a switch to general aviation aircraft, we couldn't ... say that for certain, especially at this stage of the game."

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